New Year’s Resolutions!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and around this time, people start making resolutions for the new year. Goals, plans, even the occasional scheme, all in the hopes of being a better version of themselves.

And I instantly began wondering if anyone was making puzzly resolutions. So, like all great philosophers, I asked the folks on Twitter.

Right after I posted the question, my friend Candice replied, “Spooky timing. Had just added ‘set aside a few hours every week to do puzzles’ to my list.”

As it turns out, plenty of people had puzzly resolutions for 2014, including a few familiar faces!

Puzzle poet Peter Valentine resolved to “Get up early and finish the poem before anyone else is awake — I wonder how many puzzler parents use this tactic for solving the puzzle?”

[Glenn’s note: Probably more than you suspect, Peter.]

Constructor Patrick Blindauer tweeted, “In 2014, I resolve to solve more, use fewer black squares, and never, ever use TREEN.”

[Glenn’s note: A quick dictionary search reveals that TREEN is anything made of wood, especially cookware or utensils. Diabolical crosswordese!]

Friend of the blog Krud tweeted, “I resolve to embed an anagram into every tweet. Aye, mint tea lovers drown beige meat near vote.”

Crossword blogger Kathy Matheson (a.k.a. Crossword Kathy) declared that “My resolution for the New Year is to construct and submit at least three daily-size crosswords to Will Shortz — so I better get to work!”

Constructor and Puzzle Historian David Steinberg resolved to “finish the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project’s litzing stage and to construct more Sunday crosswords, since I’ve been doing mostly dailies.”

[Glenn’s note: Litzing is the PSPP term for converting print puzzles into an archivable electronic format.]

Friend of the blog (and YouTuber!) BaffleDazzle had a stack of puzzly resolutions:

“1. Exercise brain as much as body (easier, no weights/special clothes required)
2. Make puzzles for friends/family birthday gifts
3. Try new puzzle/puzzly game each month (growing stack of old Springboks + new Looney Labs discoveries!)
4. Make puzzles the new black!”

Constructor Robin Stears also offered a pretty ambitious list of puzzly resolutions:

“Next year, my resolution is to interact more with puzzle fans. I hope to attend some crossword tournaments and trivia nights and spend some time getting to know the contestants and finding out what kinds of puzzles they like. There will be more digital collections this year, more contests, and more freebies for Team StearsWords.”

As for me, I have a few resolutions of the puzzlerific variety. I resolve to:

  • Anagram more. New Years resolution = Now to rerun easy lies.
  • Play more board games. Working on the blog has reignited my love of board games, and I hope to get a regular game night going.
  • Write fewer pop culture-related palindromes, particularly involving Kim Kardashian’s advice to her daughter. “Nori West nods. ‘Moms don’t sew, iron’.”
  • Fight crime, but with puzzles. Probably through the clever use of origami and paper cuts.
  • Take PuzzleNation PuzzleInternational! (Not really sure how to go about this yet. It’ll probably involve some scheming.)

Happy New Year, my fellow puzzlers! May 2014 be as delightful, surprising, and occasionally baffling as you desire!

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

Crossword History: A Timeline

The hundredth anniversary of the crossword is nearly upon us, and we at PuzzleNation Blog thought we’d take a look at the long (yet surprisingly short) road it took to get to this marvelous centennial!

And so, without further ado or folderol, we proudly present:

A Brief History of the Crossword
(by Glenn Dallas and the PuzzleNation Team)

16th – 11th century BC

Inscriptions from New Kingdom-era Egypt (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties) of horizontal and vertical lines of text divided into equal squares, that can be read both across the rows and down the columns, are made. These inscriptions are later referred to by Egyptologists as “Egyptian crossword puzzles.”

19th century

Rudimentary crosswords, similar to word squares, begin appearing in England, and later elsewhere in Europe.

June 22, 1871

Future inventor of the crossword, Arthur Wynne, is born.

March 23, 1897

Future New York Times crossword editor Margaret Farrar is born.

February 25, 1907

Future New York Times crossword editor Will Weng is born.

December 21, 1913

The New York World publishes the first crossword, invented by Liverpool journalist Arthur Wynne.
(The puzzle is originally known as a word-cross.)

January 6, 1916

Future New York Times crossword editor Eugene T. Maleska is born.

1920

Margaret Farrar is hired by The New York World as a secretary, but soon finds herself assisting Arthur Wynne with proofreading puzzles. Her puzzles soon exceed Wynne’s in popularity.

Colonel H.W. Hill publishes the first Crossword Dictionary.

1924

Margaret Farrar publishes the first book of crossword puzzles under contract for Richard L. Simon and Max Schuster, “The Cross-Word Puzzle Book.” It was an instant bestseller, launching Simon & Schuster as a major publisher.

The Sunday Express becomes the first newspaper in the United Kingdom to carry crosswords.

1926

The cryptic crossword is invented by Edward Powys Mathers, who uses the pseudonym of Torquemada. He devises them for The Observer newspaper.

1931

Dell Puzzle Magazines begins publishing.
(Dell Publishing itself was founded in 1921.)

1941

Dell Pocket Crossword Puzzles first published.
(The magazine continues to this day.)

February 15, 1942

The New York Times runs its first Sunday edition crossword. (Click here to read more about this.)

June 2, 1944

Physics teacher and crossword constructor Leonard Dawe is questioned by authorities after several words coinciding with D-Day invasion plans appear in London’s Daily Telegraph. (Click here to read more about this.)

1950

The crossword becomes a daily feature in the New York Times.

August 26, 1952

Future New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz is born.

1968

Lyricist Stephen Sondheim begins creating cryptic crosswords for New York Magazine, helping introduce Americans to British-style crosswords.

1969

Will Weng succeeds Margaret Farrar as the second crossword editor for the New York Times.

1973

Penny Press is founded.

1977

Eugene T. Maleska succeeds Will Weng as the third crossword editor for the New York Times.

1978

First year of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament,
later featured in the documentary Wordplay.

1979

Howard Garns creates the modern Sudoku puzzle for Dell Magazines (under the name Number Place), the first pen-and-paper puzzle to rival the crossword in popularity (though this spike in popularity would occur decades later under the name Sudoku).

June 11, 1984

Margaret Farrar, while working on the 134th volume in Simon & Schuster’s crossword puzzle book series, passes away.

1993

Will Shortz succeeds Eugene T. Maleska as the fourth crossword editor for the New York Times.

November 5, 1996

One of the most clever and famous crosswords of all time is published, the election-preceding crossword where either BOB DOLE ELECTED or CLINTON ELECTED could read out, depending on the solver’s answers.

June 23, 2006

Wordplay documentary hits theaters, featuring both celebrity solvers of crosswords and the participants and organizers of the 2005 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

February 29 – March 2, 2008

Thanks in part to the Wordplay documentary, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament outgrows its previous setting and moves to Brooklyn.

June 6, 2008

Matt Gaffney launches his Weekly Crossword Contest (MGWCC).

August 2008

Lollapuzzoola, a crossword-solving tournament with a more tongue-in-cheek, freeform style, launches in Jackson Heights, New York.

October 6th, 2008

Patrick Blindauer’s famous dollar bill-inspired crossword puzzle is published.

2009

The city of Lvov, Ukraine, creates a crossword that spans an entire side of a 100-foot-tall residential building, with clues scattered around the city’s major landmarks and attractions. It’s awesome.

October 11th, 2011

PuzzleNation.com goes live.

June 2012

David Steinberg launches the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, intending to create a complete database of every New York Times crossword.

August 13th, 2012

PuzzleNation Blog is launched.

June 14th, 2013

Matt Gaffney celebrates five years of MGWCC,
stating that MGWCC will run for 1000 weeks
(which puts the final edition around August 6th, 2027).

December 21st, 2013

The Crossword officially turns one hundred years old.


Additional information:

February 15th, 1942: The New York Times initially regarded crosswords as frivolous, calling them “a primitive form of mental exercise”; the motivating impulse for the Times to finally run the puzzle (which took over 20 years even though its publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, was a longtime crossword fan) appears to have been the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In a memo dated December 18, 1941, an editor conceded that the puzzle deserved space in the paper, considering what was happening elsewhere in the world and that readers might need something to occupy themselves during blackouts. The puzzle proved popular, and Sulzberger himself would author a Times puzzle before the year was out.

June 2nd, 1944: The words Omaha (codename for one of Normandy’s beaches), Utah (another Normandy beach codename), Overlord (the name for the plan to land at Normandy on June 6th), mulberry (nickname for a portable harbor built for D-Day), and Neptune (name for the naval portion of the invasion) all appeared in Daily Telegraph crosswords during the month preceding the D-Day landing.

This has been attributed to either an incredible coincidence or Dawe somehow overhearing these words (possibly slipped by soldiers involved) and incorporating them into puzzles unwittingly.


Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

5 Questions with Constructor and Puzzle Archivist David Steinberg

Welcome to the eighth edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, writers, filmmakers, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m excited to have David Steinberg as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

With crosswords published in both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times by the age of 15, David practically has crosswords in his DNA. He’s the crossword editor for The Orange County Register’s numerous publications, as well as the founder of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, an ongoing effort to digitize every New York Times crossword from before Will Shortz took over as editor. And he’s accomplished all of this before the age of 18!

David was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for David Steinberg

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

I started doing puzzles when I was very young — in early elementary school, maybe even kindergarten, I was doing puzzles in books my parents bought me. I was really into Jumble puzzles — I remember that one year, my elementary school had congratulatory “graduation” ads parents could buy to help support the school, and my mom designed one for me that was a Jumble puzzle.

But I didn’t really get into crosswords until I was twelve. My dad had been trying to do the crosswords in The Seattle Times, and I liked watching him and trying to help. My mom noticed my interest and thought I might like seeing the documentary Wordplay, so we checked it out of the library. I saw how Merl Reagle built a puzzle by hand and thought maybe I could do one, so the next day I did. And that was how I got started.

2.) With the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, you’ve established yourself as one of the key preservers of Puzzle History. Can you give the PuzzleNation readership an update on where the project stands right now and your projections for the future?

Thanks! As I write this, more than 12,100 puzzles have been digitized, or “litzed.” [Glenn’s note: As of publication today, the total is over 12,900.] We’re working backwards in time — we started in 1993 and are now litzing puzzles from 1961. We’re currently proofreading puzzles from 1980; all the pre-Shortzian puzzles from 1981 through November 20, 1993, are posted on XWord Info.

We’re in the middle of our third litzing contest, “Litzstarter,” and the goal is to reach 13,000 puzzles by the end of October. I’m hoping we finish litzing all the available puzzles by the end of 2014. I say “available,” because quite a few puzzles that were scheduled for publication in The New York Times were never published because of newspaper strikes. They likely appeared in other publications, however, and after all the puzzles we have are litzed, I’ll be launching an effort to track down the missing puzzles.

The proofreading is progressing at a slower pace because we only have a few proofreaders. My hope is that after the litzing is done, some of the litzers will become proofreaders. Finishing all the proofreading will probably take several more years, but I want the litzed puzzles to have as few mistakes in them as possible.

(Interestingly, many pre-Shortzian puzzles contain editorial errors — in most cases, we’re leaving those in, sometimes with notes that will be added later, so that the litzed puzzles will be accurate representations of what originally appeared in the paper. When the errors appear to be simply typesetting mistakes, we usually correct them.)

One other thing that’s happened recently is that I won a Davidson Fellows Scholarship for the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project. This award was very gratifying, because it demonstrated that the project is of value to a wider community, not just to cruciverbalists.

3.) The hundredth anniversary of the crossword is fast approaching. Given your familiarity with puzzles both past and present, what does the hundredth anniversary mean to you? And what are the odds people in the future will be celebrating the crossword’s bicentennial with similar gusto?

The hundredth anniversary of the crossword puzzle means a lot to me — it shows just how long patterns of black and white squares have fascinated solvers. It’s amazing how much the crossword puzzle has evolved since Arthur Wynne’s first construction in 1913 — from crossing a bunch of words in the dictionary to symmetrical grids and entries from the news to complex themes like rebuses and entries reading backwards!

I wonder how crosswords will continue to evolve as new terms become in-the-language and new theme types become more widely used — perhaps they’ll be superseded by some completely different puzzle type. Either way, I think the 200th anniversary of the crossword puzzle will be very significant!

4.) What’s next for David Steinberg?

Between running the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, editing crosswords for the Orange County Register’s associated newspapers, constructing my own crosswords, and going to school, I don’t have much time to look ahead! But I do plan on going to college in a couple of years and hope to eventually become a software engineer. I plan on continuing to construct and edit crosswords, though, for the rest of my life!

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

One piece of advice I have for puzzle solvers is never to get too locked into answers you fill in that aren’t flat-out gimmes. Crossword constructors like to use a lot of misdirection — at times, I’ve had to erase five or six answers in a single corner before being able to finish! Erasing guesses and starting a puzzle with a clean slate can also be very helpful.

Similarly, crossword constructors shouldn’t get too locked into a particular fill and should explore all options — you never know what possibilities are out there until you explore everything!

Many thanks to David for his time. You can follow the progress of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project on their website, as well as David’s editorial efforts on the Orange County Register website. David continues to set records (most recently for the greatest age difference between collaborating constructors, when he worked with 99-year-old Bernice Gordon), and will no doubt be influencing the puzzle world for a long, long time to come.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!